October 23, 2006

The Bat Cave.

The Daily News has a piece about an about an abandoned building inhabited by kids who call the place the Bat Cave.
It's like a dorm," said Sasha, 18, who ran away from her Long Island City, Queens, home four years ago to live in the labyrinthine Bat Cave, just off Third St. and named for the bats that once lived in the four-story building.

The squatters sleep in the building that was once a power station, despite a decadent drug culture consumed with vicious fighting....

"I wake up around 11, go to lower Manhattan to panhandle, drink too much, get f----d up on drugs and go back to the Bat Cave," said "Straps," 23, who ran away from her Suffolk County home four years ago.

The site, across from a proposed Whole Foods store, is only blocks from $1.5 million brownstones. Owned by mega-developer Shaya Boymelgreen, the building is expected to become a luxury condo complex called Gowanus Village.

The article says there are pictures in Flickr. Searching for the tag "bat cave" gets you to a lot of pictures of... real bat caves... which are pretty cool! But "bat cave brooklyn" gets you to the right place.

It's sad about the homeless kids. Whole Foods and luxury condos are nice and will solve the real estate discrepancies. The kids, presumably, will melt away into other, less visible places.
"It's a very sad story," said [Assemblywoman Joan] Millman (D-Carroll Gardens), who alerted police and contacted a homeless outreach group. "If these are kids that need treatment, we need to provide that for them."

Verizon security guard Anton Green said the kids wave to him when they pass the nearby phone company truck depot he watches over, but he insisted they appeared harmless.

"They look like they're punk rockers - Mohawks, Army bags, hoodies," said Green. "They seem real nice, well-mannered."


Dave said...

Speaking of real estate discrepancies, Suffolk County, from which "straps" ran away has some of the priciest real estate in the country. From mansion to hovel in one generation! Is America a great country or what?

Maxine Weiss said...

Uh, there was a time when it was illegal to be a Runaway.

Runaways and their Parents would both be arrested and charged.

Guess it's not illegal anymore?

All of these kids have families,

...who couldn't care less.

Too busy on their cell phones, and can't be bothered.

Technology and the Digital Age.

Peace, Maxine

Ben said...

My own daughter is one of those kids.

She's not in that particular "bat cave", but she's out on the streets, and crashing in abandoned buildings, after her countless, and worse than useless, hospitalizations from age 13 to age 17.

Her life is not fun, and her life expectancy is not long.

TMink said...

Many people who NEED treatment do not want it and will refuse it. We had a sad case here in Nashville of a woman who had a home but also had a mental illness. When she became manic, she would sleep on the streets. Some drunk rednecks pushed her from where she was sleeping into the Cumberland River and she drowned. She was not homesless, as she had a room with caring family. But she was ill and incompetent. Sadly, she refused to take medicine or live with relatives who helped. And she died because of it.

I believe that we have the freedom to be mentaly ill and not seek treatment. But I believe that this woman's behaior made her a threat to herself and she perhaps should have been hospitalized.

But I cannot bring myself to think the same of the addicted and abused folks living in the Bat Cave. Is it their right to live lives of misery and danger because of their abuse and addictions? I am not sure.


Danny said...

There are a few places in Madison like that-- they're in the college slums around the eastern part of James Madison Park and around Mifflin. No one notices them because the gutterpunks look like normal college students and their neighbors are constantly moving away. Sometimes you'll see them panhandling on State Street outside of Exclusive Company or next to Potbelly's.

KCFleming said...

Re: "Is it their right to live lives of misery and danger because of their abuse and addictions? I am not sure."

President John F. Kennedy's 1963 Community Mental Health Centers Act, by removing payments for mental hospital care, mandated deinstitutionalization of the mentally ill, resulting in the unintended adverse effects we now live with.

So now the mentally ill and drug abusers are as free to live in abandoned buildings, scavenge dumpsters for food, panhandle, and commit petty crimes to stay alive as the rest of us.

goesh said...

Sasha and Guano Brains aka Straps are not kids at age 18 and 23. They are riff-raff, plain and simple. They'll die from an OD and rats will gnaw on them.

Joan said...

When "Straps" 'ran away from home', she was 19. That makes her legally an adult, and there is nothing her parents can, or could, make her do. For the underage kids, it's a different story.

What I want to know is, how are these kids surviving? Where do they get the cash to buy their drugs (not to mention food)? If they're not getting it from their parents, they're doing something illegal, and why isn't that addressed? I know there are abuse cases that explain runaways, but a lot of these kids just don't feel like following their parents' rules and drop out. I've seen this happen, and unless the parents step in strongly when the kids are still pretty young, around 12 or 13, it only escalates until you get 23-year-olds like "Straps" who is useless to society and harmful to herself. It's heartbreaking.

altoids1306 said...

Hmm, I guess I agree with most posters here that these kids/not-kids are mostly likely in the bat cave because of their own decisions (i.e, their own fault).

But that doesn't mean society shouldn't try to help them. Even from a purely economic standpoint, they are untapped human capital. They seem sociable, relatively-clean, and well-mannered. They managed to live together in uncomfortable quarters without killing each other. They don't seem beyond redemption.

Bleeding-heart liberalism? No, not really. I don't believe in throwing money away (foreign aid to Arab nations), but small amounts which could do a lot of good, sure. That's called investing. Spend $2000 on each kid, and even if only 1-in-10 becomes a well-integrated adult, that's a bargain at $20k, for a productive human.

TMink said...

Hey Altoids, I appreciate the ideas in your post. And I concur with your bottom line comment too. Where I am stumped is how to be wise and effective as we seek to help. They are certainly worth helping, and there are multiple reasons for helping. But how do we as a culture help without enabling?
I am at a loss here.


Derve said...

>"Be quiet. I'm drinking."

Back in the 80s, someone put out this documentary about homeless kids in Seattle. Excellent Tom Waits soundtrack

Anonymous said...

I'd be nervous if I worked in a building whose security guard called the nearby homeless people harmless, real nice, and well-mannered.

Ben said...

Some of these kids can be helped.

There's no single answer, no magic bullet, but one of the answers is to support organizations like Covenant House. If all you know about Covenant House is about the scandal there, you should learn about what they've done since then.

You can't win 'em all (Covenant House couldn't save my own daughter) but they do amazing work.


Anonymous said...
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Joan said...

Don't discount early drug use contributing to, or even causing, mental illness -- at the very least, depression. I've seen it, and I've seen parents say "Oh, it's harmless, it's just a phase," closing their eyes to the real effects the drugs were having on their kid. If your kid is smoking pot at 12, they could easily end up on a path that leads to the bat cave if you just let it go.

Am I being alarmist or hysterical? I don't think so. It takes a long time for a kid to fall this far. Why didn't anyone notice, and why didn't anyone try to catch them before they ended up there?

I agree that these kids are worth saving, but as an outsider I don't know how to do it. I don't want a government program to even attempt it -- that's exactly the wrong way. These kids need personal intervention.

Dave said...

"If your kid is smoking pot at 12, they could easily end up on a path that leads to the bat cave if you just let it go.

Am I being alarmist or hysterical?"

Yes and yes.

I'm Full of Soup said...


Gowanus Village- is that some kind of inside joke/ tip of the hat to "Bat" cave..

From Heritage Dictionary:

gua·no (gwän) Pronunciation Key n. pl. gua·nos
A substance composed chiefly of the dung of sea birds or bats, accumulated along certain coastal areas or in caves and used as fertilizer.

Dave said...

Gowanus Village is named for the Gowanus Canal

Ben said...

The first land patents within Breukelen (Brooklyn), including the land of the Gowanus, were issued by the Dutch Government from 1630 to 1664. In 1639, the leaders of New Netherland made one of the earliest recorded real estate deals in New York City history with the purchase of the area around the Gowanus Bay for construction of a tobacco plantation. The early settlers of the area named the waterway "Gowanes Creek" after Gouwane, sachem of the local Lenape tribe called the Canarsee, who lived and farmed on the rich shorelines.

Richard Dolan said...

Philip Roth wrote about this in American Pastoral. It's every parent's nightmare.

A few winters ago, a young girl stopped me in Brooklyn asking for money. I don't know how young she was, but late teens was my guess. She was pale, blonde and huddling against the cold, barely able to muster the energy even to panhandle, and said she needed money to buy food. She obviously did, but no doubt wouldn't use it for that purpose.

Normally I don't listen to that crap, but something about her made me stop. I asked her what she was doing on the streets in winter, and she mumbled something not very coherent. As I gave her $20, I tried to engage her in conversation which didn't really work (no surprise there, I suppose). I ended up just telling her that she was committing suicide and should do something about it before it was too late.

I've thought about that encounter every now and then over the years, perhaps because I have two daughters. I have no idea what the decent thing to do is in that situation. I remember a sermon at our parish on the same issue, where the bottom line was that one should at least be willing to make human contact, eye contact, with street people, even if you don't give them money. I try to do that, but don't suggest that my kisd do the same.

Anonymous said...

As someone who works with de-institutionalized (and still institutionalized) mentally ill adults in New Jersey I certainly don't have any easy policy answers. I do think people who miss institutionalization or think it was some great loss don't really understand what a horrible thing it was and still is. Long term institutionalization is a nightmarish experience - the facilities are invariably poorly run, poorly staffed, and there is no pretense of treatment. More typically there is degradation and abuse.

Treatment 'in the community' on the other hand does work for some of these chronic cases. Other cases live in a revolving set of circumstances - homeless, imprisoned, hosptialized, in treatment, out of treatment. Where the community players (cops, ER's, psych professionals, gov't officials, religious groups) are in synch, it works fairly well, keeping these people from causing harm to others first, and in many cases from causing excessive harm to themselves.

As for the these bat kids - definitely a parents worst fears realized. Drugs are clearly a major aggravating factor - if not primary cause - of their circumstances. But, as some of the posters here understand, you get those kids off drugs and you may well discover a host of psychologically deficits and complications that are far more intractable.

Posters quick to blame apathetic parents are sadly unaware of how such children often emerge from decent homes. That is the tragedy of mental illness and drug abuse.

John Kindley said...

There's a very good documentary about a similar community that existed in an abandoned subway station (in New York i think), titled "Dark Days" and available on Comcast on Demand. Addiction was a common but not universal problem among the folks there. I don't recall any of the people who were featured as being younger than 20 or so.

KCFleming said...

Re: "I do think people who miss institutionalization or think it was some great loss don't really understand what a horrible thing it was and still is. Long term institutionalization is a nightmarish experience - the facilities are invariably poorly run, poorly staffed, and there is no pretense of treatment. More typically there is degradation and abuse."

Overbroad and incorrect.
There were abuses, and there always will be. In some locations the care was quite good, in others, very poor, if not animalistic. It got far worse when funding was removed, not surprisingly. You are overgeneralizing and using a stereotype that doesn't quite fit the facts.

Mental health care has always been on the bottom of the funding priorities list, so its denizens have always fared poorly. Don't blame the jail when the citizens won't pay for care and want everything out of sight.

Community care is largely a joke perpetrated on the mentally ill. The tenuous safety net moving them from ERs to jail to the streets isn't an example of 'working remarkably well', it's evidence of neglect.

We treat dogs better than this.

Jeremy said...

I thought we put dogs to sleep if they haven't been claimed or adopted after a couple of months.

Anonymous said...
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KCFleming said...

Re: "I hate to sound like a bleeding-heart, but why is it we, as a society, can't do better? "

Theo is entirely correct. There were similar well-run places across the US from the 1880s through the late 1960s. Removal of federal funding left the onus for payment on the Governor's desk, and that was a bill no state wanted, so the problem got pushed onto the streets. It coincided with a general consensus at the time that, a la R.D. Laing, that it was better to free the mentally ill, and give them meds as outpatients.

It failed miserably.

Some people are simply too impaired to live without daily supervision. We don't let elderly Alzheimer's patients live alone. We shouldn't let burned-out schizophrenics do so, nor should we countenance 16 year old girls surviving on the street, selling their bodies for a fix.

It's a sin.

Anonymous said...

"They look like they're punk rockers - Mohawks, Army bags, hoodies," said Green. "They seem real nice, well-mannered."

Worcester, Mass had some of those MTV Hallmark Hoboes living in an abandoned cold storage warehouse a few years back. They seemed real nice too. Everybody knew they were in there, but they're so nice and all. Then they got stoned and argued and knocked over a candle and left the building without telling anybody about the fire. That fire sent six firefighters to an early grave, because the firemen went in looking for them.

Worcester Cold Storage Fire

Yeah. They "appear harmless" all right.

Revenant said...

If your kid is smoking pot at 12, they could easily end up on a path that leads to the bat cave if you just let it go.

If your kid is getting high at age 12 I would suggest that he had serious problems well before he started doing drugs.

Even from a purely economic standpoint, they are untapped human capital

From a purely economic standpoint I would suggest that the value of the average homeless adult drug addict with an 8th-grade education is less than the cost of getting him or her cleaned up. It is good to want to help such people, but we should not delude ourselves into thinking we'll get anything out of it beyond the satisfaction of helping a person in need.

OddD said...

Getting high at age 12?

How many started getting high at age 6? With the help of their parents--and the well-meaning people who now would like society to pay for them being institutionalized for the rest of their lives?

How could we be guaranteed, or even encouraged to believe that we wouldn't just end up with more people being locked up.

altoids1306 said...


I don't think society needs to change. Most people do just fine. We just need to wake them up to how unsustainable their lifestyle is.

I've talked to some of the homeless in the city where I live, and most of the old ones are good people, just knocked down one too many times, and too tired to get up. The young, well, they just seem to believe they'll be young forever.

Maybe this sounds hopelessly idealistic, but I'd probably say something like this, to "Straps":

You probably live a pretty good life. Get up late, go clubbing, bar-hopping, crash and do it again. Why work? Everyone should live like you.

So why don't they? Why do they go to work, again and again, every day? Because they're afraid, afraid of the future. They wonder what will happen to them one, five, ten years from now. What happens if they get sick.

They chose to work because it's sustainable. That means that even if their life doesn't change one bit from now on, they'll be fine. But how about you?

You seem to be able to go clubbing and bar-hopping every night. I go clubbing, and it's expensive. There's no way I could do it every night. But you can. It probably has to do with the fact that you're 23 and female. But how long will that last?

There is [some poverty/homeless program]. If you go, you're life will probably be harder. Less fun, less money, less friends, no drugs. You'll be more tired, more bored. You'll need to work. It's just the first step. But if you keep at it, it will get easier.

Do you want to live to be 40? What will you do, where will you sleep, if you live to be 40? You're 23, you're young. You've got a lot of time to build a life for yourself. But you have to start somewhere.

Maxine Weiss said...

There is no such thing as Mental Illness. It simply doesn't exist.


Sorry, you'll all have to find another way to get rid of people you don't like, don't want around.

The Psychiatrists need to become real doctors, or find a new way of making money.

Peace, Maxine

Beth said...

I'm frequently a bleeding-heart liberal, and as an instructor I work with young adults in this age range, and I like them. I had my own dissolute years, in my teens and early twenties, roaming the Quarter and getting into some trouble. But I had a job and paid my own way.

The weather's temperate here most of the year, we have the Anne Rice goth thing going on, and the Quarter itself has its own lure. So the area is a magnet for gutterpunks. There are empty warehouses along the river for them to squat in, and that's even more true now after Katrina.

I hate them.

They line the sidewalks and beg for money. Some of them are polite when turned down, but others loom up threateningly or stretch their legs across the sidewalk to block your passage.

After Katrina, there's a Help Wanted sign on every little restaurant and corner store. Everyone needs workers. And these lazy kids still line the sidewalks, right under those signs, with their hands out. I have no sympathy for that.

There are other, similar kids in town, here to volunteer by gutting houses for people who can't afford the cost. They stink and they're stoned, and some of them are squatters, too, but they're working, they have good hearts, and I respect their wanting to do something, and not just take, take, take.

Okay, so I'm becoming a cranky old woman. Hey, you kids, get off my lawn!

Maxine Weiss said...

"So now the mentally ill and drug abusers are as free to live in abandoned buildings, scavenge dumpsters for food, panhandle, and commit petty crimes to stay alive as the rest of us. " Pogo

Pogo: Why don't you open up your doors and take 'em in if it's so horrible.

Hey Ben: Your daughter doesn't need to be on the streets if you've got a place.

Gee, it seems there are plenty of people with extra room.

Ah, but you'd rather label it 'mental' so you don't have to be bothered inviting them in, and keep them far far away from you.

It's always someone else's problem. I don't like someone....they must be "mentally ill"....it couldn't possibly me me, no no no it's THEM. THEY need to be institutionalized.

Let's soak the taxpayers, so Ben doesn't have to live with his daughter...because it's not Ben's fault, it's societies fault. It's GWB's fault. The Goverment, the taxpayers are expected to take care of Ben's daughter, so he doesn't have to be inconvienced.

Whaaddaya know. Just as I posted earlier. Neither Ben, Pogo, or Boehm can be bothered to throw open THEIR doors, let someone else deal with it!

Peace, Maxine

Derve said...

I would love to meet whoever's playing Maxine. No really.

Maxine Weiss said...


Petula Clark: "Don't Sleep In The Subway"

Peace, Maxine

ignacio said...

The street kid culture in Portland is highly organized. To panhandle downtown you need to belong to a "family." The head of the family assigns the most lucrative corners, such as just outside the entrance to Nordstrom's.

If you are a stranger and attempt to panhandle you will get your ass kicked. The mohawks are earned by fights. You know those bangs girls wear as part of their mohawk? These are a sign of how tough you are.

The street families are run by ex-convicts who help enforce the rules of the street -- most of them derived from prison and the criminal world. Rule #1: Don't talk to the cops.

A good percentage of the street kids are not runaways but go home at night. The outlaw life, however, seems exciting and hip.

Because the leaders of the squats are all anarchists, you know.

Older homeless people are despised and often beaten up. These are the ones who are most often "off their meds." But they're not very interesting. They don't look like they're in a punk band.

The shelters enable the street culture to flourish by providing free meals (the local Outside/In here employs two chefs), acupuncture, massage, and a bed if one wishes to get away from the squat for a night or two.

The shelters refer to the kids by their street-names. Shadowgirl, Road Warrior, Red Scorpion, Elektra. The names may change, but are part of the image one takes on in the complicated games which make street-life so interesting. "Dramas."

It's boring just hanging around with nothing to do. But if the 420s go to war with the Dark Outlaws.... then everything becomes meaningful. The war may go on for weeks.

There are so many free meals available that when you give a panhandler money you are never contributing to food. "Let's see, what shall I have for lunch today? Sisters of the Road Cafe is serving enchiladas. Two blocks away I can get sandwiches. Maybe I'll take two away for later on."

All of this is a much different situation than it was even ten or twelve years ago. It's used to be harder to live out on the streets. Maybe you'd have to become a prostitute. Today this is actually rather rare. (Though it occurs in L.A.)

Check the Internet to see where you can sleep and where the best food is in Denver, in San Diego or Austin. Different cities have different available drugs. Oh, in San Diego you should go see Mama Cass to get permission before you do shit.

Ann Althouse said...

Elizabeth: But I bet you can't bring yourself to just say "Get a job" to them. I know I can't.

Ann Althouse said...

Actually, I think I once did say "Get a job" to a panhandler. It was a perfectly healthy looking young guy (here in Madison).

Beth said...

Ann, I would if I weren't intimidated by them. The guys are big and in the prime of their lives. They have mangy dogs with them, too, because that discourages the police from doing anything more than rousting them with a warning. If they want to make an arrest, they have to call the SPCA to come take care of the dog.

Timothy said...

I say, "Get a job" to panhandlers all the time. I've also told them that I'd prefer they starved, or that those piercings sure look expensive, or that maybe they should eat their dog.

I've also said, "I can't spare any change, but I've got a lot of 'shut the hell up.'" The point is that look, if you're 23 like this "Straps" you're not a runaway, you're a lazy, no-account adult. 23? Kid? I think not. I'm 24, I graduated from college at 22 and I've been a self-supporting adult since, so if they don't feel like helping themselves they can suffer. That's on them.

TMink said...

Actually, Maxine's position is one championed by Dr. Szaz, and his (in)famous book, "The Myth of Mental Illness." Written before brain scans I might add! The Scientologists are kinda Szaz lite. (Ducking.)

Ya know, I spent time in a state and a VA inpatient ward for the seriously mentally ill. And Maxine, the world is not flat, we really did send peple to the moon, George Bush did not blow up the Wold Trade Centers, and there really are mental disorders that make people quite ill.

Trust me. The aliens told me so it must be true.


Beth said...

Tim, I like that "I have a whole lotta shutup!" line. If I'm in a crowd, I'll try it. The last time I ran the gutterpunk gauntlet, it was dark and I was alone on my way to dinner.

My first job was in the Quarter, slinging beignets at Cafe du Monde, at 16. I worked for my gas and beer and clothes money, and I loved being part of the French Quarter boho street world. I never lacked a home to go to but I had friends living on the street in the Quarter, or in Covenant House, or with other friends in garrets and tiny apartments. I can't remember a single one ever panhandling. Some went to the edge with dealing, exotic dancing and even hustling, and as sad as those choices were, they were still working and paying their way. It's much sadder for me to contemplate the kids on the street now who focus purely on putting one over day by day. This city can't support people who won't work for themselves right now.

Maxine Weiss said...

Work it Trey.

You are not responsible. It's the ILLNESS....not you. It's not your fault. It's the ILLNESS'S fault. You are not to blame. Society is to blame. The government is to blame. The ILLNESS is to blame. It's GWB!!!

But YOU are not responsible for it in the least.



Anonymous said...
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KCFleming said...

Re: "Comment on this thread has devolved toward smugness, obtuseness, cruelty, and cynicism."

Theo, I disagree.
Dealing with the homeless and panhandling is serious stuff. The answer is far from clear. The unintended side effect of merely providing free stuff is that some folks at the margin actually choose homelessness over uncomfortable living arrangements, and the population expands.

Saying "get a job" is cruel to someone who cannot get one, but a 23 year old man in our town is healthy, not mentally ill, and he is quite clearly too lazy to work. He was profiled in our paper. He could live with 3 different family members, but he's mad at them, and he knows where to get 3 free meals per day without having to sling hash. "Get a job" is an appropriate response when he begs for "spare change". Why subsidize such behavior?

And do we let the insane defecate in parks where children play (in front of children, as I witnessed 3 weeks ago in Chicago)?

Maxine espouses the Szaz diet, in which donning blinders to mental illness makes them magically disappear. Admonishing me to 'open my doors' is foolish, and she knows it. I am gone all day. Most of these people need 24 hour adult supervision. Pay me, and I'll do it. Otherwise, that's no answer at all.

Okay, so Maxine was being smug.

TMink said...

Maxune wrote: "You are not responsible. It's the ILLNESS....not you. It's not your fault. It's the ILLNESS'S fault. You are not to blame. Society is to blame. The government is to blame. The ILLNESS is to blame. It's GWB!!!"

Actually, that was not my point. I have a mental disorder, Attention Deficit Disorder, Primarily Inattentive type. I have a mental Disorder, Attention Deficit Disorder, Primarily Inattentive Type. Wait, did I just type that? (ADD joke.)

You can take a pic of my brain using SPECT analysis (www.brainplace.com) and see the underutilized areas. Argue with the pictures! But back to the point, it is only my responsibility to deal with my brain weirdness. Not GWB, not a psychiatrist, not Tom Cruise. Me. Personal responsibility.

So I work hard to compensate. I take notes, I folow OHIO (only handle it once) religiously, and I appologize a lot while trying to make up for my shortcomings with a kind, helpful attitude. Also, I avoid simple carbs until dinner cause they make me spacey and forgetful. I have a mental disorder, just kidding, twice was funny, three times would be overkill.

See Maxine, brains do not work right! If they were computers, we would all take them back to the store to exchange for one that works right! Some monitors are monochrome (color blindness,) some spell checker do not work (dyslexia) some won't shift from Excel to Word when you want them to (Obsessive COmpulsive Disorder) and some just won't even turn on (liberl politics.) OK, the last one was a joke. But you get my point. Brains do not function correctly.

So having a mental disorder is no big deal, it is how we deal with it that is the big deal. Diet and stubborness help me, medications help some people. But the pill is never enough, it always takes personal responsibility.

I hope that was clearer, see I have a . . . OK, that was one too many.


Anonymous said...
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cantraineveryday said...

have any of you ever lived this life you speak of? do you really think you have any idea what your talking about...